The Toa Mahri spilled out of their living transport just as the avalanche struck the Barraki. They saw the six villains take off in different directions. Matoro and Jaller immediately spotted the mask in Mantax’s possession and Takadox following. It was only when Hahli cried out that anyone noticed the monstrous sea Rahi who was in pursuit of Takadox.
“I guess we split up,” said Nuparu.
“Jaller and I will go after the mask,” said Matoro.
“Nuparu and I will keep the other Barraki out of trouble,” offered Hahli.
“That leaves gruesome for me,” said Hewkii, smiling. “Now I can’t say you never gave me anything.”
“Enough!” snapped Jaller. “Less talking, more hitting.”
Hewkii already knew the quickest way to beat the monstrous Rahi called Gadunka. A simple application of the power of the Mask of Gravity would leave the creature as mobile as the average rock, if not as decorative. But somehow it didn’t feel right. Hewkii was an athlete, he lived for competition. Where was the sport in winning a battle only because he had a Mask of Power and Gadunka didn’t?
“All right, so I’ll try it without the mask,” he said to himself. “But if it looks like it’s him or me…”
The Rahi didn’t know about Hewkii’s decision and didn’t care. It lunged, jaws snapping, and the Toa of Stone barely evaded in time. The second attack was faster, and this time Gadunka caught Hewkii’s leg in his mouth. The Rahi shook his head violently from side to side, threatening to snap the Toa in two.
I can play by those rules too, thought Hewkii. He reached out, grabbed a rock wall, and then used his leverage to kick forward and send Gadunka into the hard stone. The impact made the Rahi release him. Hewkii landed unsteadily on the sea floor in time to see Gadunka charging again.
The Rahi opened its massive jaws. Too late to dodge, Hewkii instead thrust his warblade into the creature’s mouth, using the weapon to keep the beast’s jaws propped open. The Toa then reared back and struck with all his might, sending Gadunka flying.
By the time Hewkii reached the spot where the Rahi had landed, it had already spat out the warblade. Hewkii used his elemental power to form fists of stone to batter Gadunka. As fast as he created them, the Rahi bit them in two.
“You should really do something about that overbite,” said Hewkii.
Gadunka lunged forward and head-butted the Toa in the abdomen. When Hewkii doubled over, the Rahi struck him hard on the head with his pincer. Hewkii went down and Gadunka stomped on his back with its clawed foot until the Toa stopped moving.
Satisfied the battle was over, Gadunka gave a roar of victory and started to swim away. The next instant, a chain wrapped itself around the Rahi’s midsection. Gadunka twisted itself around to bite through it, but just as its jaws closed on the metal, an electrical surge shot through the chain. The Rahi’s body was wracked by spasms as thousands of volts shot through its frame.
“Don’t turn your back on me,” said Hewkii, holding on to the other end of the chain. “Bad enough you’re a rampaging sea monster, at least be a polite one.”
The shock and pain enraged Gadunka. It somehow managed to finish closing its jaws, its huge teeth snapping the chain. The Rahi staggered forward a few steps, then collapsed.
Hewkii took a few tentative steps forward to examine his foe. The creature was down, but still breathing. As the Toa bent to pick up the broken pieces of his chain, a heavy-lidded eye suddenly snapped open. Gadunka rolled, smashing into Hewkii and knocking the Toa off his feet. The Rahi snapped its pincer around the Toa’s throat and began to squeeze.
Hahli and Nuparu saw the battle from far off and raced to their friend’s aid. They had spent the last few minutes harassing four of the Barraki, but with limited success. The warlords were gathering their armies and it would only be a matter of minutes before they would be after the Mask of Life.
Nuparu dove, using his aqua blaster blade to send shockwaves through the water. Gadunka snarled but didn’t loosen his grip on Hewkii. Distracted by the Toa of Earth, though, it never saw Hahli coming from the other direction. She rammed the Rahi hard enough to make him let go of the Toa of Stone. When it tried to return to the attack, she slashed the water with her talons to give it second thoughts.
“Are you all right?” she asked Hewkii.
“Thanks to you,” said the Toa of Stone.
“Why didn’t you use your mask power?” asked Hahli. “No, don’t tell me, I can guess. This isn’t the time for a contest of strength, brother – save it for when we’re back home safe.”
Not waiting for a response, Hahli used her control over water to create an underwater tidal wave. It hit Gadunka with devastating force, dropping the Rahi in his tracks.
This time, the Rahi wasn’t getting back up. The three Toa Mahri swam in silence for the city of Mahri Nui and the final moments of their mission.
Matoro and Jaller made it to the ocean floor just as Takadox was about to strike. Matoro unleashed a blast of ice, freezing both dagger and hand. Takadox howled in pain. Mantax scrambled to his feet and head-butted his fellow Barraki, driving his head spikes into Takadox’s abdomen. The paralyzing venom on the spikes immediately went to work.
“You… fool,” muttered Takadox. “Do you think Toa will let you keep the mask? You’ve doomed… all of us…”
Mantax was startled by the explosion of a Cordak blaster rocket, launched from the back of Jaller’s Hahnah crab. When he turned, Jaller dove, slamming into the Barraki. Mantax slashed the water with his pincers, but Jaller deflected the blow with his sword. The Barraki went for the mask, but Jaller was too fast for him. Using his control over heat and flame, he turned the water around his foe into a seething cauldron.
“Give it up,” warned Jaller, “or some lucky Rahi is going to be feeding on boiled Barraki tonight.”
Maxilos got to his feet. The avalanche had carried him all the way down to the Razor Whale’s Teeth. His metallic body was badly damaged but still functional. There was no pain, for this robot frame couldn’t feel any physical sensation. But there was anger. Hydraxon, he decided, would pay in full for his interference before this was all over.
He spotted a figure half walking, half dragging itself toward him. It was Takadox, his body struggling to fight off the paralyzing effects of Mantax’s head spikes. He was losing the battle, but determined to still win the war. Approaching Maxilos, Takadox triggered his hypnotic power.
“You must… do as I say…” he whispered. “Find Mantax… kill Mantax… get the Mask of Life and…”
Maxilos backhanded Takadox, sending the Barraki flying. “Save your petty talents for the fish and the worms, Takadox,” he growled. “And stop annoying your betters. You were pathetic as a warlord… more so as a traitor… and now this… oh, this is just laughable.”
“If you think that’s funny, you’ll love this,” said Matoro, hovering above. Not giving Maxilos any chance to react, he encased the robotic figure in ice that was beyond cold. The sudden, intense drop in temperature caused cracks to form in Maxilos’s crimson armor. Tiny, barely visible wisps of greenish vapor began to drift through the cracks, only to freeze the instant they did.
“It ends here,” said Matoro, as he continued to pour on the elemental energy. “One thousand years of fear and violence and darkness even in the day… it’s time to stop it.”
Matoro expected to hear Makuta’s voice in his mind, threatening, pleading, cajoling, offering empty promises in return for freedom. But as the cold seeped into Makuta’s armor and began to freeze even the energy inside, the words that sprang from mind to mind were worse than anything Matoro could have imagined.
I’m… proud… of you, said the mental voice of Makuta.
Mantax was down and Takadox was nowhere to be seen. Jaller had a free and clear shot at the Mask of Life, lying half-buried in the sand. Maybe Jaller had not contributed as much to the battle in the Pit as he would have liked, but he would have the honor of obtaining the mask.
Jaller went for the Kanohi Ignika. An armored hand grabbed him from behind, closing on his throat and cutting off his air. The next second, Jaller was being hauled off his feet by a battered Hydraxon.
“I think that mask belongs to me,” said the Pit jailer. As casually as if he were throwing out rubbish, he hurled Jaller against a rock. The impact hurt, but Jaller wasn’t about to let that stop him. Summoning all his willpower, he created a wall of flame several yards high and wide cutting Hydraxon off from the mask.
“Stupid runner,” Hydraxon said. “I’ll just go over or around it.”
“No,” said Jaller, shaking his head, “you won’t.”
The Toa of Fire’s sonar had spotted what Hydraxon had not: Spinax, coming on the run, leaping to the attack. The hound went for Hydraxon’s throat and it was all the jailer could do to keep the beast at bay.
Makuta was cold. Colder than he had ever been. Colder even than the darkness he inhabited. On his way to prevent Hydraxon from acquiring the Mask of Life, he had been ambushed by Toa Matoro, and frozen inside superhard ice. Now even his energy was beginning to crystallize – not at all good from his point of view.
Through the clear ice he could dimly make out the forms of the Toa Mahri, Barraki and Hydraxon in a mad scramble for the artifact. None of them, he was sure, had the slightest idea what the mask could really do. To them, it was just a bright golden treasure to be warred over like hungry Rahi after a meal.
Makuta, of course, knew better. He had pieced together half-remembered legends, whispered rumors, even fragments of information retrieved in the long-past raid on the island of Artakha. The Mask of Life was intended as more than just a cure-all for the Great Spirit Mata Nui in the event of his illness – no, no, the Mask of Life was a quick solution to another problem altogether: the Great Beings had created a universe, but they could not be certain it would operate as they wished. And if it did not – if the population plunged into war, if pestilence and famine took hold, if all hope was gone – the mask would activate, draining all life from every being and ending the universe once and for all time. When the time came, the mask would first turn from gold to silver, and eventually to black when the end time had arrived.
Axonn, Brutaka, Umbra – all the noble guardians of the Kanohi Ignika had never realized that they were protecting an item that could bring about complete annihilation. But Makuta knew its true importance, and had factored that into his great plan. Of course, death by freezing had not been a part of the scheme.
That was when Makuta noticed something, something quite wonderful: a lone drop of water was falling down the outside of his icy prison. Then he saw why – Jaller had created a wall of flame. The heat was melting Matoro’s ice, and freedom was moments away. The powerful limb of Maxilos shattered the prison, and Makuta guided his new body into the battle. It was time to move the plan one step closer to completion.
Once again, Jaller moved to grab the Mask of Life. Once again, someone stopped him. This time, it was Maxilos, armor badly cracked and still half-covered in ice. “My thanks, Toa, for the well-timed wall of fire,” said Makuta in the voice of the robot. “Not that I couldn’t have freed myself, but I was curious to see just how far Matoro was willing to go. And by the way, Hydraxon, the hound may ‘belong’ to you, but I can be very… persuasive.”
Maxilos advanced toward the Mask of Life. “Now I’ll take that mask. You might drop it.”
Jaller didn’t know just what was going on. But his Mask of Sonar told him Matoro was approaching fast from above. This might be their best chance to get the mask, and the Toa of Fire wasn’t going to blow it. He dove, slapping at the mask and sending it spiraling up through the water. “Matoro!” he yelled. “Grab it!”
The Toa of Ice reached out his hand, straining, and then the Mask of Life was in his grasp! He had it!
Matoro instantly braced himself, expecting an attack from Maxilos. But to his surprise, the possessed robot just stood there and watched. He didn’t even make a move as Jaller swam to join his fellow Toa.
“What’s the story with tall, red and spooky?” asked Jaller.
“More than time I told you,” Matoro replied. “Let’s talk as we travel – we have a cord to blow up.”